A guide to navigating dementia together: Strategies for families to foster understanding and connection

Sep 22, 2023
By understanding dementia families can find ways to connect, provide care, and create moments of joy even in the face of this challenging condition. Source: Getty Images.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can often feel like navigating uncharted waters.

The person you once knew undergoes profound changes, and the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. Simple tasks become monumental, and cherished memories slip through your fingers like grains of sand.

The frustration and heartache of watching someone you love gradually slip away can be extremely difficult. But amidst these challenges, there is hope.

By understanding dementia families can find ways to connect, provide care, and create moments of joy even in the face of this challenging condition.

With approximately 400,000 individuals in Australia grappling with dementia and as part of Dementia Action Week, Starts at 60 spoke with TriCare’s Registered Nurse and Clinical Manager Julija Kropp in order to gain a greater understanding of how families can connect with a loved one affected by the condition.

As loved ones grapple with the challenges of dementia, TriCare’s Registered Nurse and Clinical Manager Julija Kropp, stresses the vital role of compassion, no matter the stage of their condition

“Knowing how to interact with someone who has dementia is a very important consideration for the elderly whether they live at home or in an aged care facility,” Kropp said.

“Unfortunately, even family and friends don’t have the tools to deal with the vast changes in a loved one living with dementia — they also need our help and support in order to reduce the pain they’re feeling.”

As the Clinical Manager overseeing TriCare’s Pimpama Aged Care Residence, which predominantly serves dementia patients, Kropp is well placed to offer valuable guidance on strategies that foster independence and enhance the quality of life for both individuals affected and their families.

Some of the tips Kropp offers for family members interacting with a loved one living with dementia include:

1. Don’t shy away from talking — Interacting and socialising with those who have dementia is important. Plan activities that the person enjoys and try to do them at the same time each day. Communicate in a conversational way — don’t talk to them like a child.

2. Provide an environment that is safe — It’s best to interact with the person in a space that feels most comfortable to them. If your loved one is acting in a ‘different time’, it’s always best to go along. You can try to correct them, but it can be upsetting and can cause agitation and even aggression.

3. Encourage independence, freedom and consistency — Allow the person to keep as much control in his or her life as possible. This includes encouraging a routine, outlining instructions step-by-step, and implementing daily reminder systems where possible.

4. Aggression is a sign of frustration — Communication can be hard for people living with dementia as they have trouble remembering things. As a result, they also can become agitated, anxious, and even angry when they feel unheard. Reassuring the person, speaking calmly, and listening to their concerns and frustrations are important to avoid elevated aggression.

5. Be patient — The language abilities of those living with dementia are affected such that people have trouble finding the right words or have difficulty speaking. Allow them to communicate at a pace that is right for them. Avoid phrases like, “Don’t you remember?”.

Although advances are being made in the medical realm to treat and possibly one day even cure dementia, for those living with the condition today and the loved ones supporting them the challenges can often be overwhelming.

Despite these challenges, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM points out that “no matter who you are or how you have been impacted by dementia” help is available.

“The National Dementia Helpline is a free telephone service that provides information and advice to people living with dementia, people concerned about changes to memory and thinking, people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), family, friends and carers of people living with dementia and people who work in health and aged care,” McCabe said.

“The National Dementia Helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please call 1800 100 500 if you need information or support.

“In addition to sharing information and advice, the team can also provide emotional support and guidance, connect you to Dementia Australia and community support services and programs and discuss government support.”

The journey of caring for a loved one with dementia may be fraught with challenges, but with understanding, patience, and the invaluable support services available, we can provide the care and connection that our loved ones deserve.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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